First World War Project
William John MATCHAM (of Oare)
Private, Service Number 35498
William John Matcham was one of ten children born to agricultural labourer William Charles and Mary Jane (née Twyman) originating from Littlebourne. His elder siblings were Frank W, Charles, Ernest W, and Lucy Mary; his younger siblings were Albert J, Gurtrude (sic), Percy, Olive and Frank Criss (sic). William John was born when the family had moved to Adisham and by the time of his youngest sibling's birth in 1910, they had moved to Boughton under Blean.
William John, agricultural labourer, married in 1913 to Beatrice Louisa (née Fairbrace) with their three children's births registered at Faversham. His children were William J, Beatrice Lilian V, and Albert C (born in 1919 after his father had died). By the time of William's death in France, his family was living at No.7 Uplees Cottages, Oare, having moved from Boughton Under Blean. His widow, Beatrice, did not marry again and died in 1968 at the age of 75 at Sittingbourne.
William joined quite late in the day in the twelve months prior to his death (indicated by War Gratuity); after April 1917. First enlisting with the 8th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, before joining the second line territorials, 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment in France. His Battalion formed part of the 184th Infantry Brigade (61st Division).
William's training would probably take about four months at this stage of the war; perhaps six months. It may be speculated that William landed in France before October 1917, we have been unable to determine that date.
At the end of 1917 (20 November – 30 December 1917), the 2/5th Battalion took part in The Cambrai operations, when William was almost certainly in France. The Official Despatch for these operations can be found in the left column (above). There followed a period of relative calm over the winter months while the Allies prepared for the expected German Spring Offensive ("Operation Michael") that began on 21st March 1918.
The 2/5th Battalion took part in the opening battle of St Quentin (21st/23th March), the Battle of Estaires (9th/10th April), the Battle of Hazebrouck (12th/15th April), and the Battle of Bethune (18th April). This is where we pick up the War Diary account of the actions that cost William his life.
Circumstances of the death of William John Matcham
William died when his Battalion went into the front line at Baquerolles Farm Sector, to the South East of Calonne-sur-la-Lys. Their objective being to block German advances through counter-attack and artillery barrages. It is most likely he died around 5 a.m. in the morning of 24th April 1918 under an enemy barrage on the front line.
With a massive frontal attack by Germany, the very unstable and fluid conditions for the Allies in and around the Somme and Lys arenas included a period of consolidation and reformation of fighting formations of the Gloucesters. William's Battalion received large drafts from other formations that were disbanded in a move to create large and resilient units under each command. The 2/5th Battalion War Diary, on 2nd April, reports the creation of 4 enlarged Companies in place of the existing 3 Companies. William's Battalion then acted as an Entrenching Battalion as well as a mobile unit that could be called on to areas of crisis under the German onslaught.
We have transcribed the Battalion War Diary to tell the story leading up to William's death. April opened with the 2/5th Gloucesters Headquartered in Gentelles.
"1st April: GENTELLES: Work on posts in front of village. B Company provide picquet, which sends out patrol by night. Enemy shell village during afternoon. 3 O.R. evacuated sick.
2nd April: Work continued on posts. Orders received from Brigade to reorganise Battalion in 4 Companies which in the event of a Composite Brigade being formed, will become Platoons in No.3 Company. Names of Lieut. HORTON and Lieut. BERNARD submitted as O.C. Company and 2nd in Command respectively. "C" Company picquet outpost line.
3rd April: Enemy shelling of village increases. Warning Movement Order received from Brigade at 3 p.m. Brigade order received at 7 p.m. for Battalion to move to embus on main AMIENS Road 2 miles outside village and to pass Church at 2 a.m. Order received at 10 p.m. altering time from 2 a.m. to 3.30 a.m. "D" Company picquet outpost line. 1 O.R. evacuated sick.
4th April: Battalion moves from billets at 3.25 a.m. halt at embussing point. Busses late so at 5 a.m. Battalion marches to LONGPRES, busses arrive at 8.45 a.m. Battalion debusses at BRIQUEMESNIL where cooks await for breakfast. Moves off at 12.30 p.m. for WARLUS and arrives at 3.30 p.m. Billets good. Brigade HQ at TAILLY.
5th April: WARLUS: Battalion parades at 9.30 a.m. for C.O.'s inspection. Day spent cleaning up.
6th – 11th April: WARLUS: Training. Ordered to entrain.
12th April: ST. VENANT: Arrived STEENBECQUE 5 a.m. At 6.30 a.m. C.O. sent for by Brigade in absence of Brigadier. 7.30 a.m. detrain for breakfasts. 7.45 a.m. Order from Brigade to move to ST. VENANT as soon as possible. Move delayed owing to difficulty in detraining 1st LINE TRANSPORT. At 8.45 a.m. moves off. Order received en-route from Brigade to send officers in advance to Brigade H.Q. enemy having broken through at MERVILLE. Battalion joined by C & D Companies bivouacs in field N.W. of ST. VENANT near Canal. Draft of 190 joins and is posted to Companies. At 3 p.m. Battalion under orders of 183rd Brigade. Major G.C. MILLER goes to see GENERAL SPOONER. At 4 p.m. "B" Company ordered to support position N.E. of ST.FLORIS. 4 p.m. C.O. rejoins Battalion. Battalion moved at 5.15 p.m. on orders from 183 Brigade to position N.E. of ST FLORIS and digs in. Major G.C. MILLER reconnoitres line to be dug during night under orders of Brigade. This is cancelled and Battalion remains under orders of 183 Brigade and is ordered to take over forward system. 8.30 p.m. Battalion moves forward and takes over forward system. Disposition "C" Company right front, "B" Company left front, "D" support, "A" Reserve. 6 O.R. evacuated sick.
13th April: ST. FLORIS: Misty morning. At 8 a.m. enemy advance in small parties against "B" Company. Message received by telephone. Brigade informed and Artillery asked to shoot on Q2 and K31. Enemy bring up Trench Mortars and 2 field guns. The field guns to within 300 yards of "B" Company's advanced post. Lewis Gun fire prevents gun getting into action and knocks out at least 2 teams. At 8.45 a.m. "B" Company report on 4.5's shooting short. At 9.30 a.m. all telephone lines disabled. At 9.45 enemy commence shelling support and reserve positions. At 10.15 a.m., 2/Lieut. FORD wounded and "C" Company's H.Q. knocked out. At 12 noon, enemy shelling on whole front increases. At 3.30 p.m. Battalion H.Q. heavily shelled. English airman in 'CAMEL' makes forced landing near Battalion H.Q. At 5 p.m. Relief Orders received from Brigade. No message from "C" Company since 11 a.m. All Officers in front or support trenches impossible to get these over open country owing to enemy Machine Guns. "C" Company attacked 3 times during morning. Enemy driven off with loss each time.
At 5.30 p.m., "A" and "B" Companies report Artillery probably 60 pounds, shooting very short. "B" Company suffered casualties and are forced to evacuate forward posts. Brigade have difficulty in stopping battery which ceases at 6.45 p.m. Battalion relieved by 2 Companies ARGYLES, 3 Companies ASH and 1 Company GORDONS. Lieut. SPAFFORD slightly wounded in hand. 3 killed, 16 wounded.
14th April: ST. VENANT: Relief complete 3.15 a.m. Battalion billeted in ST. EVANT. The town is shelled intermittently throughout day. Company Commanders Conference at 3.30 p.m. to discuss recent experiences. Medical Officer wounded CAPT. GLEED reports for duty in his place. Quiet night. 3 Killed, 1 Wounded, 1 evacuated sick.
15th April: Quiet day. At 2 p.m. orders received to reconnoitre line of posts from Canal bank to P.5.a.19 and new bridge at J.33.d.27 (Sheet 36A). 1 O.R. evacuated.
16th April: Quiet day. At 10.45 a.m. order received from Brigade to find digging party to dig line in front of ST.FLORIS. At 10.50 a.m. order from 184 Brigade to relieve 2/4 OXFORDS and BUCKS in forward system. Come under orders of 184 Brigade. 11 p.m. C.O. goes up line to see 2/4 OX and BUCKS. 4 p.m. Company Commanders conference. 5.45 p.m. C.O. Company Commanders proceed up line. 8.45 p.m. Battalion moves off with ½ hour intervals between Companies. Dispositions, "B", "C", "D", "A". All companies in front line. 1 Company 4th Royal Berks in support under C.O.'s orders.
17th April: BAQUEROLLES FARM SECTOR. Relief complete 2.10 a.m. Quiet day.
8 p.m. Enemy heavily bombards front line and back areas and attack and take E. BAQUEROLLES FARM.
11 p.m. Counter attack by "D" Company fails to retake FARM.
Casualties: Wounded Capt. J.D. JOHNSON, M.C.; Killed O.R. 2, Wounded 25, Evacuated Sick 1.
Joined from duty from Base – 2nd Lieut PILCHER.
18th April. Continuous shelling by Enemy.
4 a.m. Enemy attacked "A" Company (left Company) and entered Farm buildings at junction of "A" and "D" Companies. Platoon of "A" Company under Sergeant WHITE, strength 17 O.R. retakes farm with 1 machine gun and 17 prisoners. More than 20 German bodies found at the Farm. Most successful operation. Attack on "B" Company advanced post driven off.
Quiet day from 8 a.m. – 8.15 p.m. when enemy Bombarded front line heavily for one hour.
Casualties: Killed 12 O.R., Wounded 11 O.R., Evacuated Sick 1 O.R. Joined for duty, Lieut. WELCH from Hospital. 6 Officers, 348 O.R. from 24th Entrenching Battalion.
4 p.m. Attack on Farm at P.19.b.8.6 organised. 2 Platoons of "D" Company to attack Forward BAQUEROLLES and 2 Platoons of "C", P.19.b.8.6., 1 Company 2/4th Royal BERKS to occupy trenches vacated by attacking Companies. Zero 8.30 p.m. This attack was disorganized by enemy bombardment which broke one of the Bridges. Company of Royal BERKS failed to come up. Attack not successful enemy fired on troops assembling. Remainder of night quiet.
19th April: Quiet morning. Enemy reported digging in 150 yards in front of "D" Company artillery shooting short at 12 noon and 2.30 p.m. General Officer Commanding Division visited line. Orders for relief by 2/4th OX & BUCKS issued to Companies, 6 p.m.
Casualties: Missing 5 O.R., Wounded 1 O.R., Evacuated 1 O.R.
20th April: ST. VENANT: Relief complete 1 a.m. Battalion billeted in ST. VENANT. Battalion bathed. Drafts at rear transport – 370 O.R. ordered to join Battalion and posted to Companies.
Lieuts E.H.HARVEY, M.C. and 2/Lieut H. SANKEY joined for duty.
21st April: ST. VENANT: Kit inspection. Bathing. Commanding Officer inspects drafts at Advance Transport Lines. Drafts billeted ST. VENANT by 6 p.m.
Commanding Officer attends Brigade Conference. Battalion ordered to attack German positions from LA PIERRE AU BEURE – Forward BAQUEROLLES on morning of 23rd. Commanding Officer awarded D.S.O.
Evacuated 2 O.R., 2nd Lieut A.J. SYDENHAM reported to 184 L.T.M. Battalion.
22nd April: Preparations for attack. Commanding Officer and Officers Commanding Companies reconnaissance 2 p.m. Orders issued to Companies, 6 p.m. 10 p.m. Conference of Officers Commanding Companies.
23rd April: BAQUEROLLES SECTOR: Companies moved out of St. Venant 1 a.m. and assembled in trenches in Q.19.c. at 3 a.m. Forming up line taped out by MAJOR G CHRISTIE-MILLER and Lieut J. HUNTER (Brigade Intelligence Officer) from Q.26.a.0.7 – Q.19.a.95.30. This was interfered with by Lewis Gun fire from rear. Troops joined up 4 a.m. Slight enemy shelling 4.25 a.m. Barrage commenced 4.30 a.m. Advance commenced 4.33 a.m. Barrage magnificent. Objectives gained with slight casualties. Reports received from Companies 5.15 a.m. Commanding Officer gone up to superintend consolidation. 5.15 a.m. All objectives consolidated. 5.45 a.m. First batch of prisoners reach Battalion H.Q.
5.15 a.m. In touch with 2nd LANCS FUSILIERS: on Right of Road Junction. O.C. LANCS FUSILIERS, Commanding Officer asked to hold LA PIERRE AU BEURE enclosures. Situation on their Right uncertain. LANCS FUSILIERS asked for their position. Information received that Objective on their right not reached. "B" Company (our Right Company) ordered to throw back their right as defensive flank.
Our line therefore runs Q.20.d.6.7 – Q.20.b.8.0 north of Road to Q.14.c.5.6.
Prisoners taken, 2 Officers, 63 O.R. unwounded, 14 O.R. wounded. In addition to 10 or 14 machine guns. The number of these is uncertain as some were successfully blown up in our posts while in use by us. For our disposition (Appendix C)
12 Noon. Enemy concentrate on our new positions with artillery fire from 12 noon until 5 a.m. 24/4.
Communication with forward Companies difficult. Wire repeatedly cut. 2/4th OX & BUCKS take over line to rear at Q.14.c.8.3.
24th April. BAQUEROLLES FARM SECTOR: 2 a.m. 2 Platoons "A" relieve 2 Platoons "C", 2 remaining Platoons "A" relieve rest of "C" in mist 8 a.m.
During night of 23/24 Essex came up and held line of Light Railway on right of 2nd LANCS FUSILIERS position on left. Company of LANCS FUSILIERS still uncertain.
5 a.m. Artillery Bombardment of our posts ceases. Enemy attack in mist. Stopped by our artillery, rifle and Lewis Gun fire. Our Barrage came down on their forming up line. Severe casualties inflicted by Right Company – "B" Company and 2 officers and 64 O.R. captured by Centre Company. Enemy S.B's at work remainder of day. Rest of day quiet.
Casualties Killed Lieut R.G. GALE – 24th April; Lieut F.C. MILLER – 24th April; 2/Lieut J.E. GRIFFITH – 23rd April. Wounded: 2/Lieut H.A. BISLEY – 23rd April.
Killed 28 O.R.; Missing 21 O.R.; Wounded 100 O.R.; Evacuated 7 O.R.
Most of above casualties during Bombardment between 12 p.m. 23rd and 5 a.m. 24th.
Captain DUDBRIDGE awarded bar to M.C. Captain & Adjutant H.V. GRAY awarded M.C."
William John Matcham was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]